A crisp, solitary note rings out from the brightly colored handbell and is quickly joined by a chorus of other notes. It’s a scene played out often by the children in the youth handbell choir of the St. Peter’s Lutheran Church in Wentworth.
Handbell choir director Julie Gehrels started the choir four years ago for children in kindergarten through fourth grade. The choir is featured in this month’s Madison Area Arts Council Chautauqua Series. They will perform April 17 at 10:30 a.m. at the Madison Public Library. The event is free and open to the public.
Gehrels, of rural Wentworth, said she saw a youth handbell choir presentation at another church and was inspired to set up a choir at her own church.
“It was just amazing, the talent little kids had for music,” Gehrels said. “I could see how much the elderly people appreciated seeing the little kids.”
Each child plays one or two color-coded handbells per song, she said, and every bell is its own note. For most of this year, the St. Peter’s choir has used a DVD Dot system to learn to play the handbells. The children watch a computer screen for their cues of when to toll. They look for a dot that matches the color of their bell to come across the screen.
“Most of the music they memorize,” Gehrels said. The handbell choir participants are Dakota Alfson, 9; Alex Tammen, 9; Daniel Voy, 9; Isaac Heidelberger, 8; Nathan Gerry, 7; and Mackenzie Hemmer, 6.
Alfson, Gerry and Tammen like to play the song “Hallelujah.” For Hemmer and Heidelberger, “The Lamb” is their favorite song. Voy likes both songs, plus “Jesus Loves Me.”
“They really enjoy playing in church. It’s almost like their way of singing to the congregation,” Gehrels said. Sometimes the congregation joins the handbell choir by singing along, she said.
Gehrels said the choir is a way for the children to share their talents.“I’ve explained to the kids how stewardship is important,” Gehrels said.
Voy knows what this kind of good stewardship can bring about.“I like to play because it makes my mom happy,” Voy said.
There are some rules for playing handbells. First, players have to wash their hands, Gerry said. Tammen said this is done so the oil on their hands doesn’t take off the paint. Also, the ringers aren’t to be played with.
The bells are about four years old, Gehrels said. They have two sets of bells and are able to play in two octaves.
Besides services at St. Peter’s Lutheran Church, the youth handbell choir played once at Bethel Lutheran Home for their church service last year and at Golden Living Center, both in Madison. The choir also plays for baptisms at their church.
Music has been a part of most of Gehrels’ life. She played the flute in the school band and raised her four children with the rule “no music, no sports.” Her daughter went on to teach piano and Gehrels’ son-in-law teaches chorus and band at a Lutheran high school in Wisconsin.
“Once you learn how to play, it doesn’t go away,” Gehrels said.
MAAC meetings are held the first Thursday of every month at 7 p.m. at The BrickHouse Community Arts Center at 106 SE 2nd St. in Madison.